Besides support and guidance, mentors help junior faculty tackle such challenges as:
Developing a career plan. Armando Piña, PhD, who began this year as an assistant psychology professor at Arizona State University, worked with his former doctoral mentor at Florida International University, Wendy K. Silverman, PhD, to carve out a three-year plan for his academic career. That plan included taking on a gradual teaching load-one course the first semester and two the next-identifying research questions to study anxiety disorders in Latino children and adolescents, and writing research grant proposals.
Learning to say "no." Jessica Blom-Hoffman, PhD, an assistant psychology professor at Northeastern University in Boston, says that as a new faculty member she was asked to participate in many activities, such as joining faculty committees. But she also needed time to prepare her teaching schedule and wanted to start a research agenda on health promotion in K-12 schools. Her mentors at Northeastern taught her how to decline activities that conflicted with her goals of gaining tenure and balancing teaching, research and service.
"You can't do everything the first year," she says. "Learning to turn things down is definitely a skill I needed to develop."
Gaining confidence. Junior faculty may struggle with such problems as dealing with a student's academic dishonesty or not knowing how to handle instances in which they don't know the answer to a student's question. Such experiences may jolt their confidence, but mentors can advise them on ways to manage such situations.
Also, mentors can provide valuable feedback on junior faculty members' teaching, research and service dossiers to help them navigate tenure and performance-review processes. Blom-Hoffman says mentoring has increased her self-efficacy.
"I never feel like I'm alone in situations where I don't know what to do," she says.
- M. Dittmann Tracey